An Idyllic French Riviera Hideaway

Italian architect Piercarlo Dondona creates a light-filled haven for a design-savvy young couple in the hills of Nice.

Butterfly chairs flank a minimalist swimming lane in the garden of a home in Nice, designed by Italian architect Piercarlo Dondona. 
Butterfly chairs flank a minimalist swimming lane in the garden of a home in Nice, designed by Italian architect Piercarlo Dondona. 

Though largely built-up, the hillsides of the French Riviera town of Nice are still dotted with beautiful 19th-century manor homes, with lush grounds and tranquil views of the sea. It was on one such estate where a secluded Belle Époque cottage caught the eye of a young creative couple, who began hatching plans for updating the property the moment they stepped onto the grounds. Prized for their history and timeless charm, many of the surrounding houses have been redesigned in a range of contemporary styles that artfully combine the old and the new. So they called a friend, the Nice-based architect Piercarlo Dondona, and together, the trio threw themselves into modernizing the structure’s classical aesthetic with color and pattern.

A marble countertop adds contemporary style to a rustic buffet.
A marble countertop adds contemporary style to a rustic buffet.

The renovations began outdoors, where large trees and vine-covered walls evoke a secret garden that blends well with the house’s original façade. To enhance perspective, Dondona added a sleek swimming lane that traverses the length of the area, lending a sense of modernity. Inside, two staircases form the backbone of the space, linking the house’s three floors. Dondona modified the flow and arrangement of the rooms, creating a sense of limitless space thanks to an airy living room that sits on the upper floor. “The end point is the immense terrace, a lively space that plays a central role in the house,” the homeowners say. “When we return in the evening, we feel it has been soaked in sunlight, both in summer and winter.” In the dining area, the kitchen’s green walls mix with minimalist concrete-slab flooring.

The designer reclines in Carlo Mollino's Gilda chair in the home's living room.
The designer reclines in Carlo Mollino's Gilda chair in the home's living room.
In the kitchen, intricate antique cement floor tiles play off simple green-almond walls.
In the kitchen, intricate antique cement floor tiles play off simple green-almond walls.

Clockwise from left: Mollino's neutral glass-topped dining table provides a soothing counterpoint to a bright-orange settee by Kartell. The living room features a subdued white-and-gray palette. Avian-themed wallpaper by Timorous Beasties in a bright alcove. The subdued color palette continues in the whitewashed master bedroom.
Clockwise from left: Mollino's neutral glass-topped dining table provides a soothing counterpoint to a bright-orange settee by Kartell. The living room features a subdued white-and-gray palette. Avian-themed wallpaper by Timorous Beasties in a bright alcove. The subdued color palette continues in the whitewashed master bedroom.

The lower level of the house is reserved for rest. Here, a master bedroom overlooks the garden and has a beautiful simplicity, with original parquet floors, bright white walls, and a coffered ceiling. An accent wall was painted anthracite gray to match and obscure the television for maximum relaxation. On the opposite side of the space, connected to the closet, the homeowner’s daughter’s room is a charming nest filled with vintage and secondhand pieces. While the main bathroom retains its original sink and mosaics, Dondona installed a gray-hued shower in a former closet, resulting in a chic blending of styles and time periods. “The house continues to evolve: the skylight will soon be redone, ancient pottery will animate the terrace, and new plants will be added to the garden,” Dondona says.

A child's room is filled with secondhand furnishings and vintage pieces in warm shades.
A child's room is filled with secondhand furnishings and vintage pieces in warm shades.

The interiors now reflect a lifestyle where good taste and reflection guide every decision. The owner, an antiques dealer and admirer of the Italian designer Carlo Mollino, chose two of the Modernist polymath’s iconic pieces: Reale, an oak-and-glass dining table, and Gilda, an armchair of leather and ash. In fact, all of the furniture featured throughout the house is a study in refinement, from Caravane’s crisp Stella sofa and the streamlined Boffi ceiling fan in the living room to the vintage commode in the bedroom. Throughout, the couple paired a neutral white-and-gray color scheme with bold motifs to add personality. They discovered the English brand Timorous Beasties while researching various coverings and loved an inky black-and-white iguana-themed print so much that they applied it in the entry and the dining room. “We thought the iguanas would be a real presence that would animate the spot,” the owners say. Mission accomplished.

*Translated and adapted by Rebecca Dalzell from the French story by Ellia Ascheri.

A green chest of drawers found in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue pops against a gray accent wall in the master bedroom.
A green chest of drawers found in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue pops against a gray accent wall in the master bedroom.
An expansive terrace overlooks the rooftops of Nice, with the sea beyond.
An expansive terrace overlooks the rooftops of Nice, with the sea beyond.
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